Hot February Night
Label: Drag City
If you aren’t familiar with “America’s Funnyman” Neil Hamburger, you’re either going to be completely intrigued or utterly confused and repulsed by the following review. The stage persona of punk rocker Gregg Turkington, Hamburger is a seemingly miserable always suffering tragic figure who uses vaudeville-style jokes to turn observations of celebrity worship into the utterly brutal imagery that TMZ nightmares are made of. It’s the shock humor countless lesser comedians have failed at, only delivered with a samurai’s meticulous precision that has allowed Hamburger’s (for lack of a better term) “schtick” to span three decades. It’s not a gimmick, rather an act of unpretentious performance art that just so happens to be savagely funny. If you’re “in” on the joke, Hamburger’s routines will delight whether you’re laughing along with a room of likeminded individuals or savoring the villainous energy as he’s heckled like a professional wrestling villain. Listeners of Hot February Night will be hearing the latter.
Originally recorded in February, 2007 and released that summer as a tour-only souvenir for fans, Hot February Night shows Hamburger in an arena most comedians, or performers in general, are scared to share – an unreceptive crowd. With Hamburger’s breakthrough 2002 album Laugh Out Lord having received rave reviews for being something of a comedy anti-album, a faux-live recording complete with overly loud disinterested dinner chatter and unsettling restaurant noises, it’s almost surreal to hear Hamburger being similarly berated by Tenacious D’s very real audience who Hamburger is supposedly “warming up.” While there is a smattering of people who know and love Hamburger in attendance and a few jokes that even the angry mob can’t resist, the majority of the album sounds almost like an unwitting auditorium being slowly tortured. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind.
The August, 2010 release of Hot February Night seems something of a joke in itself as a large chunk of the material (Gerald Ford and James Brown’s death, Paul McCartney’s divorce, Kevin Federline) is dated to a point where it’s neither topical or old enough to be ironic throwback humor. Fortunately for us, the blunt force of Hamburger’s punchlines still resonate once one remembers what he’s referring to. Otherwise, longtime fans will happily finally have some of Hamburger’s best bits together on one recording in good quality, including five minutes of what has to just about be his entire repertoire of Courtney Love jokes. Even if you’ve heard these jokes before, they take an entirely new life of their own in front of such an unwelcoming crowd.
While it may not warrant the repeat listens of his other releases, Hot February Night should be essential listening for even a casual fan of stand-up comedy. It shows a true artist at the top of his game sticking to his guns despite thousands of people informing him that his comedy firearms are banned on their premises. Hamburger’s jokes are as funny as ever and it almost becomes a bit of a game in itself to hear what jokes the crowd finds funny (Lisa Marie Presley, ejaculate in Metallica’s hair) and what subject matter is still taboo (The Holocaust, The Big Bopper). Some hecklers become distinctive and the unfiltered unedited 33 minutes has Hamburger at his most hostile. If you’re a fan of Hamburger or an Andy Kaufman-style humorous sadism, it’s absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ve been warned.
by Chaz Kangas